The Netherlands is known for its delicious cheeses and the Dutch are often affectionately referred to as ‘cheese heads’ as the average citizen eats around 33 pounds of it a year.
Holland’s history of cheese making extends back to the time of Julius Caesar. Indeed, it seems the number of dairy animals in Holland may rival the number of tulip bulbs in the fields.
The Dutch have integrated flowers and various types of cheese into their lives, entwining them with festivals all year round. Cheese making and cheese carrying guilds have had a solid spot in Dutch life and the Dutch economy for centuries.
Most people have at least heard of Gouda and Edam cheeses, if not tasted them. These two hard, mild cheeses are named for the towns in which they were originally made and from which they were sold. But other Dutch cheese types are just as integral to Holland’s healthy cheese export economy, and have some interesting differences in flavor and texture. Some of the other major types of cheeses in Holland include the following:
Maasdammer – this nutty cheese has large holes and a domed shape. Try a Leerdammer or a Maasdam when at the cheese shop.
Boerenkaas – This raw milk cheese is, by law, an artisanal cheese: at least half the milk used needs to come from the farm’s cows, and the rest from no more than two other farms.
Goat’s Cheese – Goat’s cheese in Holland comes in two types: the soft, fresh cheese and a semi-hard, cured version that is much like Gouda. It’s pale with a bit of a tang and a melted texture.
Smoked Cheese – This cheese is made, melted, smoked, and then remolded into a sausage shape. Often sold by the slice.
Frisian Clove Cheese – Low-fat milk, cumin, and cloves give this firm cheese a hard, dry, and tart taste.
When visiting Holland, tourists are encouraged to try the cheese. Stop by the cheese markets in Alkmaar, Gouda, or Edam for a reenactment of a medieval cheese market. Take a tour of the outlying farms, some of which come with a cheese tasting. Or just stop by one of the many cheese shops and try some yourself. When visiting Amsterdam, stop at the award-winning Reypenaer Tasting Room to learn about the many cheeses the Reypenaer company makes and their histories.
Cheese has probably been made in Holland back as far as 200 BC—even Julius Caesar mentions Dutch cheese in his logs. Cheese production took a major role in Dutch life by the middle ages when they began exporting.
Cheese markets grew and towns that were granted weighing rights got special status in the country. The town of Gouda has the Waag weigh house, which is one of the most beautiful in Holland.
There are elaborate weigh houses, where goods were scaled, priced, and traded in every major Dutch city. Holland cheeses are the most exported in the world, and the Dutch dairy industry is worth about seven billion euros a year.
The average Dutch citizen eats about 15 kilos of cheese (that’s about 33 pounds) a year, and Holland cheese varieties are known throughout the world for their balance of sharpness with sweetness. Most cheeses are named for the towns where they are made, such as the well-known Gouda and Edam.
Limburger, Maasdammer, and several varieties of goat’s milk cheese are also popular. Cheese festivals and other attractions dot the countryside; medieval-style cheese markets and auctions are still run in Alkmaar, Hoorn, and Edam for the benefit of the tourists, and modern cheese markets are located in Woerden and Gouda.
Visitors to Amsterdam should definitely stop at Reypenaer’s Tasting Room on the Singel canal (near the floating flower market) and try the artisanal Gouda.
It’s won Supreme Champion at the Nantwich International Cheese show twice. Dutch cheese is a true delicacy of this country that is not to be missed, nor is the opportunity to try it where it is manufactured. When planning a trip to Holland, taste some cheese.
The Gouda cheese market is held during spring and summer in front of the Gouda City Hall and the Cheese weighing building. Gouda is known for its quintessential Dutch cheese.
Gouda cheese represents about 60% of Dutch cheese production. The Gouda cheese market is one of the few true cheese markets left in the country (along with the Edam market).
While it is dressed up for the tourist market, it still fulfills its original purpose: an outlet for local farmers to get their cheese to market.
During the spring and summer, the Gouda cheese market still runs in the traditional manner: cheese is brought in, tested for quality, weighed, priced, and sold. The weighing house offers other fun things to do as well.
Cheese is used for a measure of weight to weigh visitors, there is information (and a quiz) to test your knowledge of cheese, and of course cheese sampling. Tourists can also visit the cheese museum located on the premises. A tour of the building takes about two hours.
The market in Gouda is open from the beginning of April until the end of August, and takes place every Thursday morning. Be sure to visit the local crafts market at the same time when you are visiting the cheese market: traditional crafts as well as delicate cheeses.
Local tours are available throughout Holland and include the cheeses of the regions, and if you are interested in local culture at all, understanding the food is a good start.